Understanding primary sources 

If you are seeking to learn about the past, primary sources of information are those that provide first-hand accounts of the events, practices, or conditions you are researching. In general, these are documents that were created by the witnesses or first recorders of these events at about the time they occurred, and include diaries, letters, reports, photographs, creative works, financial records, memos, and newspaper articles (to name just a few types).  

Also because primary sources are interdisciplinary it may be helpful to check out the Primary Source section of the History Subject Guide. 

Primary sources also include first-hand accounts that were documented later, such as autobiographies, memoirs, and oral histories. However, the most useful primary sources are usually considered to be those that were created closest to the time period you’re researching.  

Determining which kinds of documents constitute primary sources depends upon the topic you’re researching. (For example, sometimes the same book or article could be considered a primary source for one research topic and a secondary source for a different topic.)

For Example: The painting of Washington Crossing The Delaware, by Emanuel Leutze was painted in 1851. 

Del.jpg

This painting is both a primary and secondary source depending on what you are researching.

Primary

It is a primary source if you are studying the painter Emanuel Leutze or art and paintings from the late 19th century.

Secondary

It is a secondary source if you are studying the American Revolution or the actual event of Washington crossing the Delaware, this is because the events depicted in the painting took place in 1776, over 50 years before the painting was painted.  Emanuel Leutze was not present for the events he is depicting so it cannot be a primary source for those events. 

  Primary, Secondary, & Tertiary Sources

 Current & Historical Newspapers

When using newspaper databases: Look carefully at their descriptions to help you identify coverage date ranges.   When searching in the databases it helps to specify date ranges, especially if you are searching a historical newspaper.   When searching historical newspapers be aware of the language you are using. The algorithms search for words in the newspaper so using modern terminology for something from the 1800s may not work. 

  Black Historical Newspapers (ProQuest)
Offers access to the major African American newspapers of the 20th century: the Atlanta Daily World (1931-2003), the Baltimore Afro-American (1893-1988), the Cleveland Call & Post (1934-1991), the Chicago Defender (1910-1975), the Los Angeles Sentinel (1934-2005), the New York Amsterdam News (1922-1993), the Norfolk Journal & Guide (1921-2003), the Philadelphia Tribune (1912-2001), and the Pittsburgh Courier (1911-2002).

  British Library Newspapers (Gale)
Includes over 240 newspaper titles from the United Kingdom and Ireland, and spans the years of 1732 to 1950 over six distinct collections. Illuminating diverse and distinct regional attitudes, cultures, and vernaculars, providing an alternative viewpoint to the London-centric national press.

  Ethnic NewsWatch (ProQuest)
Offers access to the full text of articles from newspapers, magazines, and journals of the ethnic, minority, and native press. While most of the content is in English, some content in non-English languages is included. Coverage for most newspapers and magazines goes back to the early 1990s, but earlier content is also available.

  Historical Newspapers (ProQuest)
Offers full text access to the archives of a selection of newspapers available on the ProQuest platform: the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette‎, and the major African American newspapers of the 20th century, including the Chicago Defender. Coverage varies.

  Irish Times (ProQuest Historical Newspapers)
Presents a complete archive of the Irish Times back to 1859 (except for the most recent two years) and the Weekly Irish Times (1876-1958).

  New York Times (NYTimes.com)  Access Instructions
Offers access to all sections of the NYTimes.com website without monthly limits. Coverage from 1851 to present, with limited availability of articles from 1923-1980. For full text access to all NYT content except the most recent five years, use ProQuest Historical Newspapers.
Subscription courtesy of the Provost's Office and Falvey Library.

  New York Times: 1851- (ProQuest Historical Newspapers)
Provides full text access to the complete New York Times archive except for the most recent five years. Use NYTimes.com, Nexis Uni, or ABI/INFORM for access to current content.

  Philadelphia Inquirer, 1860-2009 (ProQuest Historical Newspapers)
Provides full text access to the complete Philadelphia Inquirer archive up to 2009: the Philadelphia Inquirer (1860-1934), the Philadelphia Inquirer Public Ledger (1934-1969), and the Philadelphia Inquirer (1969-2009). Use Philadelphia Inquirer (NewsBank) for access to current content.

  Radical Newspapers, 1886-1939 (Irish Newspaper Archive)
Presents digital archives of more than 100 newspapers, bulletins, and pamphlets covering a broad sweep of nationalist, republican, feminist, and socialist publications. Many of the newspapers and bulletins in the collection were short-lived and the archive may hold only a handful of issues.
Funded with support from the College of Arts & Sciences and the Irish Studies Program.

  Times (London) Digital Archive, 1785-2019 (Gale)
Provides a fully searchable facsimile of the Times of London. The Times is the world's oldest daily newspaper in continuous publication.